Back South Again: Wornall House

Normally I prefer self-guided tours of historical buildings and museums, but after my guided tour of the Wornall House Wornall homesteada front KC Nov 2009last week, I’m rethinking that attitude. My guide, who is an intern at Wornall House, told me many wonderful stories.

John Wornall, one of the founders of Westport (the original town in the area, founded in 1833, and now part of Kansas City north of the Plaza), built Wornall House in 1858. In 1864, during the Battle of Westport, the Wornalls had to surrender to the Confederates and then to the Union Army in one day.Wornall homestead sign and house KC Nov 2009

My guide showed me a balcony on the top floor from which John Wornall was almost hanged twice in those 24 hours. But all ended well: the family survived and surrendered their house for use as a Union hospital. The “informal parlor” (papered because that was cheaper than painting in those days) served as the surgery ward because it had a window through which resected body parts could be tossed onto a wagon. Isn’t that lovely?

My favorite thing about the formal parlor was not the old Steinway in the corner but the gendered chairs. Wornall homestead man's and woman's chairs KC Nov 2009Men’s chairs had arms and leaned back farther because men worked harder and therefore deserved to recline more. Do you suppose that’s why recliners and men go together in my mind?

When I saw this kitchen, however, I wondered if men had earned those chairs. Wornall homestead kitchen 2 KC Nov 2009That blue cone of sugar had to be broken up and then guarded in a locked sugar cabinet. This brick was tea, Wornall homestead tea brick KC Nov 2009which was ground and then poured into the bottom of a cup to steep. (The original Boston tea-partiers threw such bricks into the harbor.) Everything (rotisserie, toast, soup) was placed on an open hearth, which must have been blazingly hot to cook meat without the benefit of full enclosure. Some meals could be prepared by piling coals onto these Dutch ovens; Wornall homestead kitchen 1 KC Nov 2009maybe you’ve cooked that way on a camping trip?

Slaves and children worked in this space. At the age of two on a farm, one’s childhood ended and work began. The youngest children had the worst jobs: emptying the chamber pots or doing repetitive work in the kitchen. As my guide said, making children turn the noodle-maker for hours was a good way to keep them from running around and breaking things.

My favorite item in the kitchen was the flytrap (honey goes around the opening in the bottom), Wornall homestead flytrap KC Nov 2009followed closely by the rattrap.Wornall homestead rattrap KC Nov 2009

In this house, I saw a wreath woven from the hair of 60 women. I learned that the word “sink” comes from the zinc used to line the recessed counters that held bowls of water for use in the kitchen. I also learned that Jayhawkers were free state warriors from Kansas and that Bushwhackers were slave state warriors from Missouri. Or perhaps both groups should be called terrorists.